Modern society is hugely dependent on finite oil reserves for the supply of fuels and chemicals. Moving our dependence away from these unsustainable oil-based feedstocks to renewable ones is therefore a critical factor towards the development of a low carbon bioeconomy. Lignin derived from biomass feedstocks offers great potential as a renewable source of aromatic compounds if methods for its effective valorization can be developed. Genetically encoded biosensors can provide enabling tools by transducing the target metabolite concentration into detectable signals to provide high-throughput phenotypic read-outs and allow dynamic pathway regulation (Biotechnology for Biofuels 2019).
We recently developed a WCB that permits the detection of aromatic building blocks (e.g ferulic acid) derived from lignin biomass. This system operates via a repression depression mechanism utilising a marR aTF that results in the expression of a reporter gene (eGFP) in the presence of substrate. We are currently working with researchers in Brazil, and at the University of Warwick, to exploit this technology for the degradation and valorisation of sugarcane bagasse (Chem Commun 2016).